Driving holidays are a wonderful way to experience life in Queensland’s rural communities, and there are several “Big Sky Country” self-drive itineraries that have been created to help tourists on their way.
One is the “Gourmet Country & Outback” trip, which includes suggested stops for local produce, stunning landscapes and ‘meet the maker’ experiences.
Pick it up in Stanthorpe and you’ll have both local produce and ‘meet the maker’ covered!
At Stanthorpe Cheese you can sample flavours of hard, soft, blue and smoked varieties made from milk delivered by a jersey herd in a paddock just down the road.
Kent Saddlery is another artisan business in the Stanthorpe area, where a talented team of leather workers creates the saddles, belts, handbags and other goods that fill it’s showroom.
Stanthorpe is probably best known for its wines, and there are over 40 wineries and cellar doors open to visitors.
One of the picks of the bunch is Hidden Creek Winery, which is 2018 Queensland winery of the year. It has a café that overlooks the lake and is open for lunch four days a week.
For the full winery experience you could stay the night in a studio cabin at Ridgemill Estate. They are beautifully decked out for self-catering, and their vantage points overlook the vineyards and the Great Dividing Range. Buy a bottle of something from the cellar door, and enjoy!
Thallon to St. George
Leaving Stanthorpe and heading into the southern Queensland outback, it’s a long but comfortable drive along the Barwon Highway, but before swinging right at the Carnarvon Highway, you can turn left for an interesting diversion in a little town called Thallon.
You’ll get a good counter lunch at the Francis Hotel, and there are two great photo opportunities nearby. One is a giant wombat called William that was built to acknowledge the area’s historical connections with hairy nosed wombats.
The second (and probably more spectacular) is a set of silos that have recently been covered in a vibrant mural of an outback waterhole. They’re a pretty stunning sight.
Thallon’s neighbouring rural centre of St George also has a lot going for it, including cool cafes, and a co-op called Handmade St George that allows clever locals to present and sell their arts, crafts and homewares. The variety is amazing, and there are some very special
finds. A must visit is the studio of Tina-maree. Her silver jewellery includes some very special heirloom pieces.
For a very different view of St George, there’s the opportunity to take a Sandytown River Cruise along the Balonne. It’s an interesting ride at any time of day but is particularly stunning as the sun goes down.
Of the accommodation options in town, Riverland Motor Inn is a great choice. Its restaurant is called Rivers, and it has a won several awards for the quality of the meals that are served.
The Big Sky Country Drive circuit heads from St George, north to Roma, where a must-visit attraction is the Roma Salesyards. Every Tuesday and Thursday, volunteer guides explain the process as auctioneers sell cattle lots at roughly thirty second intervals. Blink and you’ll miss it!
It’s the largest cattle selling facility in the southern hemisphere, and last year 308 000 head of cattle were sold here in 2017. The saleyards give tourists a great opportunity to mix with and chat to true blue country folk.
As its name suggests, Roma Central Motel is in a top location that’s within easy access to all of the town’s attractions. It’s rooms are fresh and modern and include a good-sized fridge and charging ports beside the bed.
But if you’re towing a van then there’s a very interesting campground on a property just out of town. Ups n Downs Caravan Park and Farm Stay is pet-friendly and has everything that you’ll need to make your stay comfortable … and then some. It has a menagerie that includes usual farm animals like sheep, horses and pigs, as well as camels, an alpaca, donkeys, and the most gorgeous highland cattle that you’ll ever see.
Happy hour is a hoot at Ups n Downs, and the camp kitchen and fire pit are popular hang outs. A night spent under the stars is also a great opportunity to experience a different aspect of Big Sky Country.
Miles to Toowoomba
Travelling east along the Warrego Highway from Roma, takes you through Miles. There are cabins and powered and unpowered sites available at Miles Cross Roads Caravan Park, and it’s pet friendly. It also has a great campfire setup, and if you time it right you can drop a donation in the hat and enjoy one of Bob’s delicious camp oven cook-ups.
Directly across the road from the park is a premier tourist attraction of the region. Miles Historical Village Museum contains over 30 buildings. Some of them are originals and some are replicas but the streetscape is a fascinating insight into century-old Miles.
The authenticity and attention to detail is amazing considering that there are 40,000 objects in situ in the collection. The newest display at the village is one of the largest war museum collections in regional Australia, and it includes some very personal pieces.
The next main town on the route back to Toowoomba is Chinchilla, and the gift shop in its Visitor Information Centre is worth visiting if you would like a keepsake of your trip. It‘s also an invaluable resource for other places to visit on the way home.
There’s been no shortage of friendly encounters, interesting landscapes and foodie experiences along this
Big Sky Country route, and you’ll find all three at Westbrook, just outside Toowoomba. Damon and Indea’s The Farm Shop is a produce store that removes the middle man. They buy straight from growers on the Darling Downs, Lockyer Valley and Granite Belt and sell the best and the freshest of local fruit and vegetables.